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Tour de PEZ: Ed’s Take On The First Week
Monday 06:25, the Easyjet punishment flight from Edinburgh to Stansted; ‘good morning,’ I say to the lady in the next seat as I struggle into my pen. She scowls and stares even more intently at her magazine; ‘finding the real me’ is the headline – I could assist with that. But she’s probably bound for some soul searing meeting in a stuffy London office. But that’s not for Martin and I; it’s Tour time and PEZ has let me loose for two weeks on the world’s biggest bike race.

Thank you, Richard – thanks too Gordan and Valerie for great observations and pictures from the first week.

‘The first week’ – even Viktor couldn’t say it was boring.

Stage 1 Passage du Gois-Mont des Alouttes: Phillippe Gilbert reminds me a lot of Venetian ex-world pro road champion, Moreno Argentin.

An Ardennes king and very hard to beat in an uphill finale.

Gilbert was in a class unto himself in the finale of Stage 1.

As is always the case in le Tour, the combination of a huge bunch, technical parcours and the fact that a pro team derives 60% of its year’s media exposure from this one race mixes the ideal cocktail for ‘les chutes’ – it’s not often you see Alberto Contador losing a minute and more on stage one.

However, the stage one crashes would seem common or garden by the end of the week.

Stage 2 Les Essarts TTT: Garmin at last broke their Tour ‘duck’ with Norwegian world champion making up for a spring campaign which didn’t match his expectations and donning the world’s most famous jersey.

It took just 24 minutes to lift the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey;’ but in those 24 minutes his equipe covered 23 kilometres – that’s quick.

Garmin finally got their first Tour stage win in Stage 2. A happy day all around.

Not a disastrous day for Alberto, but not a great one either as another 20-odd seconds slid away from the Spaniard.

And for the ‘what ifs’ file – ‘what if HTC’s Bernie Eisel hadn’t fallen on the first corner . . . .

Stage 3 Olonne sur Mer-Redon: Viktor isn’t a man for riders from the New World – ‘there were none of them in Gent, when I was there in the 70’s and that Greg Lemond . . . .

But he’s cool with Garmin’s Tyler Farrar, any man who makes his home in grey old Gent instead of trendy Tuscany or Girona scores highly with Vik.

Win number two for the Argyle boys came just one day after their first.

With a beautiful lead out from pilot fish extra ordinaire, Julian Dean and world champion Thor Hushovd it was going to take warp drive to get round the big guy from Washington state.

From no wins to two wins in two days; JV was almost lost for words – almost, that is.

Stage 4 Lorient-Mur de Bretagne: This one had ‘Phil Gilbert’ writ large on it – but Cadel Evans (BMC) hadn’t checked out that part of the script and it was the extremely sharp looking Aussie who pipped Contador at the top of the much vaunted Mur de Bretagne.

Alberto Contador raised his arms on the line…

…But it was Cadel Evans raising his arms on the podium a few minutes later.

Vik reckons that he, Dave and I went over it in the 1976 Roscoff to Lorient amateur classic – but I should add that we were all in the sag wagon at the time.

Stage 5 Carhaix-Cap Frehel: He can be rude, inappropriate, disrespectful and controversial all within a couple of sentences – but on his day, he’s the fastest man on the planet and can dig deeper than anyone else.

Cav gets his win. The floodgates have been opened.

Perhaps Eurosport’s David Harmon summed it up best; ‘it’s between Gilbert and Hushovd – but Cavendish has come from nowhere !’

Stages 6 Dinan-Lisieux: Despite all the ‘bigging up’ we’ve heard about Edvald Boasson Hagen – ‘the new Eddy Merckx’ being the most outlandish claim, this win was long overdue.

Gent-Wevelgem in 2009 was his last ‘biggie;’ but it was a beautifully taken win – albeit Geraint Thomas’s lead out was perfect – Matt Goss and Thor Hushovd are serious scalps.

Boasson Hagen was impeccable to take his and his Sky team’s first stage win at Le Tour.

But if Sky were ‘all for Bradley’ would they really be burning up watts like this?

Stage 7 Le Mans-Chateauroux: If Cav came from nowhere on stage 5, the minute the HTC bullet train was hitched on to the front of the peloton with ten minutes to go in stage 7, you knew there was only going to be one winner.

If Ale Jet can out jump him by that vital split second then the big Italian can sometimes get the verdict – as happened in the Giro.

#2 for Cav. How many will he take in 2011?

But that’s easier said than done – maybe if Feillu used all his speed to go forward rather than sideways, he’d be the one . . .

And the wisdom of Sky hedging their bets with all that early work for a stage win was vindicated when Bradley Wiggins was left sad and stunned beside the road with a snapped collar bone.

Stage 8 Aigurande-Super Besse: And praise for another North American, Tejay van Garderen (HTC) for his efforts in the break.

Everyone assumed Thor would lose Yellow on Super-Besse…he didn’t.

If the lanky ex-Rabobank Continental man hadn’t been quite so nervous and just a little less generous with his efforts, Movistars’s young Portuguese, Rui Costa might not have been hogging the podium kisses.

Chris Horner was another podium possible whose Tour ended today with a broken nose and concussion.

Hoogerland’s injuries were unbelievable.

Stage 9 Issoire-Saint Flour: Today it was Omega Pharma who were proved right in burning up the team to grab early headlines for Gilbert.

If it had been ‘all for Jurgen’ then it would have been wasted as big Van den Broeck came down hard to break his shoulder in the same mess that saw Astana’s Vino break his femur.

Vinokourov suffered what could possibly be the crash that ends his career. He was planning on retiring at the end of the season – his broken femur means the end of the season. End of career?

Horror crashes were the order of the day as a French TV car veered into Sky breakaway rider Juan Antonio Flecha – Vacansoleil’s Johny Hoogerland rode into Flecha and was catapulted into a barbed wire fence.

The wounds looked like something from a bad Rambo movie and it was a not surprisingly tearful Hoogerland who pulled on the polka dot jersey at the end; minutes down and dripping with blood.

Voeckler. What can you say? Incredible.

‘I landed on the fence and I looked at my legs and thought, “is this what cycling is about?”

If it wasn’t a happy ending for Johny, it was for his Europcar breakaway companion Thomas Voeckler – who despite losing the stage to Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez – was filled with joy as he pulled on the maillot jaune.

And that’s how it stands – Voeckler leads overall from Sanchez by 1:49.

The likes of Andy Schleck, Alberto Contador, and Cadel Evans are set for real battle starting on Thursday.

A sparkling Cadel Evans is third at 2:26 with the Schlecks close behind and Alberto still needing to find those stage one crash lost seconds.

It’s the rest day today, we still have to fly from London to Rodez, pick up the hire car . . . .

. . . but that’s all boring stuff; we’ll be in the trenches tomorrow – and trying our best not to bore you.

au revoir !


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